One of the questions I am asked most in China – aside from “Where are you from?” and “Can we take a photo together?” is:
你 有 微 信 吗? (Nǐ yǒu Wēixìn ma?) – “Do you have WeChat?”
With more than 762 million active users, China’s most popular messaging app, WeChat or 微 信 (Wēixìn) is now a huge part of modern day life in China.
So, what the heck is it I hear you ask?
Wechat is basically the chameleon of social medias.
If you rolled together; Whatsapp, Skype, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, you’d start to get an idea of what Wechat is.
Wechat users can talk with friends, share posts, read the news, find penpals, find a date, translate text, transfer money, pay electricity bills, send gifts. Heck, you can even buy your morning coffee with it!
Since launching in 2011, Wechat has skyrocketed to success: with 1.1 billion people now holding an account!
Why all Chinese people Wechat
So, why has Wechat stolen the hearts of – and hands – of Chinese people?
Wechat offers much more features that are incredibly useful in everyday life.
Unlike other international IM heavyweights, like Whatsapp and Viber, Wechat offers much more features that are incredibly useful in everyday life.
Quick recap of top features:
- Share posts, pictures and links on your Moments ‘wall’
- Scan QR codes to find and follow people/businesses
- Send text and voice text messages – language translator built in
- Make calls and video calls, including group chat
- Read breaking news and other articles – can favorite them to read later
- Use online wallet – where you can buy anything from shoes to coffee
- Send gifts or transfer money to friends
- Find new friends to chat with
- Play games, and more!
Sitting down for lunch at my favorite dumpling 餃 子 (jiăozi) shop, I suddenly hear a man asking me, “Where are you going?” 去 哪 里? (qù nǎlǐ?)
I look to him, confused and say “Uh, here,” adding with a smile: “I’m hungry” 这里, 我饿了 (Zhèlǐ, wǒ è le).
Staring at me for a few beats, he turns back to his phone and begins chatting away.
He hadn’t been talking to me at all. He was sending a voice text!
In China, no one uses their thumbs to text. Instead, they send each other short voice messages.
Chinese people love messaging this way, and let’s face it, so do I!
It is faster, more convenient and you can actually better gauge people’s emotion by the tone of their voice, which you can’t always get from text.
Recently, while out walking in Zhuhai, a shop attendant came running up behind me, out of breath, telling me I had shortchanged her when buying a new tea canister – oops.
A little red-faced, I began scrummaging in my purse but could only muster a few measly jiao.
I was about to return to the store and give back the item when she asked if I could pay with Wechat wallet.
So there, in the middle of the road, I simply whipped out my phone and made an instant money transfer to the store, using Wechat.
Wechat wallet works by uploading your bank details into the app. You can make bank transfers, send gifts and pay at any retailer that has a Wechat QR code (which is everyone in China).
This feature is just heaven for convenience but hell for shopaholics!
More: How to use Wechat Wallet
Oh, Moments. How I love thee.
The most interesting feature on Wechat by far is ‘Moments’ or ‘Friends Circle’ 朋 友 圈 (péng you quān).
Much like Facebook’s wall, people can share status updates, videos and links, which many happily waste hours of time scrolling through at all hours of the day, and night.
This is a fantastic insight into how Chinese people live, what they’re passionate about, and is a great way to keep up-to-date on festivals and coming events.
The only catch?
It’s completely addictive and you’ll often see people walking, eating, and even driving, eyes fixed to screens.
Messages to my friends and family are absolutely plastered with stickers.
Stickers are small, moving images are that often over-the-top cutesy, and are used to show how you’re feeling, instead of saying it.
Texting, “I can’t wait to see you”, will likely see the reply of a cat dancing in cowboy boots.
Text, “Terrible weather today” and you may see a sticker of a little squirrel cry, then explode.
It’s almost as if Chinese people are following the lead of the ancient Egyptians – using moving hieroglyphics to communicate.
Tip: When texting friends and family, use stickers, if you’re talking to a colleague or acquaintance, use emojis.
Lastly, and most importantly, scan codes.
When someone first asked me: 我 可 以 扫 你 吗? (“Wǒ kěyǐ sǎo nǐ ma?”), I thought they were asking if they could clean me (扫 săo means to sweep).
But in fact, they were asking to scan my Wechat code!
Scan codes are something that never really took off in the West, but are going absolutely gangbusters in China.
The way it works is, you meet a new friend and instead of exchanging phone numbers or friending them on Facebook, you scan their QR code – sending you straight to their Wechat.
Likewise, you can scan the code of your favorite restaurant, store, business or brand to connect with them and follow them for updates.
So there it is, Wechat 101 plus some of its most beloved features. So moveover Whatsapp, Wechat is the social media of the future!